This essay considers a collection of poems written by nineteenth-century political prisoners and published in the radical press. I situate these poems in the context of debates that raged at the time over whether or not political prisoners should have access to reading and writing materials. Thanks both to the sheer number of these prisoners and to their determination to remain politically active, the prison became a primary site of nineteenth-century radical print culture. Although radical prisoners wrote in a variety of genres, the short lyric poem offered a particularly apt form for expression. The familiar tropes of the Romantic lyric are regularly deployed in these poems, but, given the material conditions of imprisonment, these tropes can start to look quite different. Here, I consider the implications of this particular cultural moment, when metaphors of imprisonment and solitude butted up against the lived experience of prison. I examine the ways in which radical prisoners made the Romantic lyric their own, but also the ways in which imprisonment conditioned Romanticism itself.
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